Indonesian Catholics are joining efforts to combat a dengue fever epidemic on Flores Island following a sharp rise in the number of cases reported in West Manggarai district in recent months. The Ministry of Health has declared the region the worst hit in the country. Dengue fever, a tropical disease primarily transmitted by several species of mosquitoes, killed five people in the district from October to December, while scores remain hospitalized. There has been a sharp increase in the number of victims, from 161 in 2017 to 539 in 2018. Some 441 of last year's cases were reported from September to Dec. 31. This month saw another 167 new infections, according to Dominikus Hawan, head of the district's dengue prevention team. The last time an epidemic reached this scale was on Flores back in 2010
when the disease claimed the lives of at least 10 children in a matter of weeks, prompting an environmental clean-up initiative. Sister Maria Yosephina Pahlawati, an activist nun with the Congregation of Servants of the Holy Spirit
, said her order has joined hands with other civil society groups to try and prevent further infections by washing away dirty pools of water where mosquitoes breed and proliferate. "We're doing this because the government isn't taking any action, even though they have declared this outbreak an extraordinary case," she told ucanews.com on Jan. 14. Sister Pahlawati said representatives of her order had met local government officials and urged them to raise public awareness about the disease. Responding to this call, Maria Geong, the deputy district head, led a group of civil servants and members of the public to clean up areas where squatters stay in Labuan Bajo, the capital of West Manggara district, which are known to be breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Father Kornelis Hardin, principal of Ruteng Diocese's
Stella Maris Vocational School in Labuan Bajo, told ucanews.com that hundreds of the school's students had joined in the anti-dengue program. There is no official tally in Indonesia to show how many people have died as a result of dengue fever in recent months but the Health Ministry said on Jan. 14 that 22 of 34 provinces have reported a rising number of cases since September.